Going after President Karzai is something I’ve so far (more or less) avoided, but recently he stated “Sometimes I hear that some businessmen are fleeing and moving their businesses to outside Afghanistan… Curses be upon such businessmen that made tons of money here and now that the Americans are leaving they flee. They can leave right now. We don’t need them” (NYT).
Oh yeah? Never mind that Karzai’s government has done little to nothing to counter corruption within itself, fostering a corruption-perception rating of 180 out of 182 nations (take that, Mogadishu!), or that the banking system is so horribly inept that locals prefer the unregulated hawala system and accounts in the Gulf. Never mind that Karzai’s own family is hedging its bets (Guardian/Kabul Press). Never mind that the government needs business and the tax revenue it generates (however little reaches the government coffers) in order to supplement a drastic reduction in aid, because the government can’t (and won’t be able to for a very long time) support itself (h/t NYT). President Karzai wants Afghans and the world to know that fleeing a faltering government and financial sector is cowardly. He doesn’t assuage the business community, nor put forward security and good governance plans that would ease their minds, but curses them.
There are a million things I could write about how that’s funny coming from a man who spent some time in exile himself, who keeps part of his family safely in the West, who heads a government staffed by the most dual-citizens this side of… actually, probably anywhere. Or why arguably more cash per GDP dollar leaves Afghanistan (often in government hands) than anywhere else. But what chafes is that for all the shady businessmen who may very well be trying to take the money and run, there are many, many more Afghans who simply want a better life for themselves and their families, and know that in no small part thanks to Karzai, Afghanistan faces a very bleak time ahead. Doing business in Afghanistan has never been easy; private security has now been effectively banned, and the government alternative is more expensive and of questionable quality. Even the poorest Afghans often pay five to tens times the nationally regulated fee in order to obtain a national ID, without which registering for school, receiving benefits, registering legal cases, or travelling is virtually impossible. To mock those who are leaving for something better is callous, even for him.
I suspect things in Kabul will still function over the next year or two as they have done for the last year or two; the end of 2014, however, looks set to go down like the New Year’s Eve scene from the Godfather II. No one I’ve spoken with, Afghan or foreign, expects Karzai to stay past then. It’s possible he may survive, in Afghanistan, past 2014. But not likely. Therefore, perhaps he should ease up on the curses (or save them for his “misguided brothers“), and address the underlying issues.